Review: DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD by Olga Tokarczuk (trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, 2019)

Genre: Adult Mystery
Year Release in English: 2019
Source: Physical Copy

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Content warnings: violence against animal, dead pets, hunting, misogyny, blood, bore, vomiting, blood in stool (mentioned), alcoholism

A woman with a deep love for animals is at the center of this mystery where men with violent tendencies towards the local wildlife start appearing dead in her vicinity. The source material for the movie, Spoor (2017), I definitely had to give this one a read, and it’s incredible how well both versions of the story work in their respective media.

Much smaller in scope than The Books of Jacob, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead is a character study of a recluse who loves animals living among hunters and

Continue reading

Light Novel Review: VAMPIRE HUNTER D Vol. 4: Tale of the Dead Town by Hideyuki Kikuchi & Yoshitaka Amano (2006)

Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy Science Fiction Western
Year Release in English: 2005
Buy Link: Barnes & Noble (Initially received via Humble Bundle)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: violence, gore, talking carbuncle, blood, weather disaster

In this volume, Vampire Hunter D stumbles upon a biker and a family that’s been eliminated by radiation poisoning with only a teenager surviving. Things only get stranger from there when the new trio make their way to a literal wandering village inhabited by several thousand people. The mayor has some specific problems with Nobility, but the poisoned family’s home might have the key to all the goings-on.

The mystery here can literally only happen in the world of the Frontier. There’s science that feels like magic and fantasy that is ripped straight from horror. The architecture and depiction of the moving town is also something really rad. There’s allusions to the mechanisms that are firmly rooted in 90’s-style sci-fi, with a rudimentary understanding of computer and cyberpunk mechanics. It’s present enough to give the genre’s grounding, but not so much that not knowing the specifics will interrupt immersion. The intrigue driving the story is also deeply human, where the reasons behind the town’s ailments perfectly map to “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

I won’t go into specifics, but if medical horror is your jam, you’re going to be well-fed.

Review: EMPIRE OF ICE AND STONE: The Disastrous and Heroic Voyage of the Karluk by Buddy Levy (2022)

Genre: Adult Historical Nonfiction
Year Release: 2022
Source: Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Starvation, depictions of mental illness, period-accurate slur against Inuit and northern indigenous people (explained, but present), animal slaughter, alleged death by suicide, dog on dog violence & cannibalism, corpses, graphic depictions of surgery & infection

Levy returns again with an incredible account of several boats and two dozen people trapped in and around the Arctic circle. Anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson organized a scientific and geographical expedition to the Arctic on The Karluk, a ship vastly unprepared for Arctic sea ice and manned by a crew composed largely of scientists with little experience in that treacherous territory. It goes well, with Stefansson abandoning ship to go on a caribou hunt and leaving everyone else in the charge of its captain, Robert Bartlett. Death, mental illness, desperation, and long, long treks across ice pack into Russia around the onset of World War One ensure.

If you enjoyed Labyrinth of Ice, you are in for a treat with incredible characterization and a reverence for the snow and ice many have tried to traverse in previous expeditions, you’re in for a treat. The audiobook does come with supplemental materials like photographs, a timeline, and additional reading.

A note on the content warnings related to animals: if you like cats, there is a cat who survives and lives for several years after the Canadian Arctic Expedition. If you like dogs, however, you might want to skip this one as many do not survive and Levy does not shirk away from descriptions.

Continue reading

ARC Review: BAD CREE by Jessica Johns (2023)

Genre: Adult Literary Horror
Release Date: January 10, 2023
Buy Link: Bookshop.org | Unabridged Books | Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Read an eARC from the publisher
Content warnings: death of a sibling, brain hemorrhage, discussion of alcoholism, blood, gore, violence against animals (birds, the dog does not die), drowning. generational trauma

Mackenzie lost her older sister, Sabrina, several years prior in what seemed like a natural cause. But recently, horrible nightmares have been plaguing her sleep, including items being pulled from the dreamscape into the real world. Turning to her remaining sister, cousin, mother, and aunties for help, perhaps she can quiet the supernatural disturbance once and for all.

Johns masterfully uses dreams as both a narrative and a plot device to tell the story of trauma both personal and generational with a focus on finding support in one’s family and community for respite and healing.

Continue reading

Book & Show Review: MADOFF TALKS by Jim Campbell & MADOFF: THE MONSTER OF WALL STREET (2021 & 2023)

Financial fraud that ends in negative consequences for the perpetrators remains one of my key hyperfixations. I also enjoy painting while having a document on in the background. So, it was perfect when Netflix dropped a new document on the largest Ponzi scheme in history, executed by Bernie Madoff, which left literal bodies in its wake and the disappearance of billions of dollars in savings and long term accounts. A friend tipped me off about the book that inspired the documentary, so naturally, I queued that up on my TBR immediately.

I think watching the show and reading the book in parallel helped my understanding of the both the people involved and the execution of the fraud. With its interviews and depictions, Madoff: The Monster of Wall Street definitely focuses more on the human element while Madoff Talks does a good job distilling the finances, economics, and (lack of) governmental oversight that made a fraud this huge possible.

Continue reading

Light Novel Review: VAMPIRE HUNTER D Vol. 2 Raiser of Gales & Vol. 3 Demon Deathchase by Hideyuki Kikuchi & Yoshitaka Amano (2005)

Genre: Adult Dark Fantasy Science Fiction Western
Year Release in English: 2005
Buy Link: Barnes & Noble (Initially received via Humble Bundle)

Review of Volume 1 can be found here

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content warnings: Blood, kidnapping, incest, rape (fades to black, but unequivocal), dismemberment, nonconsensual medical experimentation

The mystery in this one is so engaging. We start off finding a young girl who has been selected by her town to go off into the capital as part of a special program that gets her a higher status in human society while the village of Tepes gets more resources. But there’s more to the precocious young woman than meets the eye, and gnarly is just one word for it.

What really shines here is how monstrous the humans are especially juxtaposed to the Nobles. I won’t spoil the mystery, but there is a horrific arc in which we learn more about Lina and the mayor who took her in. Please heed the content warnings for that portion of the story.

The action is incredible, and I really liked how less animalistic the vampires were in this one. The conspiracy is a years’ long literal medical experiment in eugenics. It’s very horror, and highlights Kikuchi’s ability to blend genres and use tropes to great effect. I can’t say too much without spoiling the entire story arc.


Content warnings: Blood, kidnapping, dubious consent, body horror of John Carpenter’s The Thing variety

This entry is absolutely the gnarliest one I’ve read so far, and, yes, I am aware that I am only on volume 3. While Demon Deathchase is the lightest on lore so far, the mesh of science fiction and dark fantasy is at its tightest. There are death cars and possessed carbuncles that grow into fully sentient tumors. It’s disgusting. It’s incredible.

There is no stone Kikuchi will leave unturned when it comes to the horrific scientific possibilities plaguing the world eleven thousand years into the future. We have flesh-possessing carbuncles that are eerie like ghosts and unsettling in the way flesh distorts with science that feels like magic.

The women within this work show a range of strength, from the lovelorn dhampir mechanic Caroline to the gearhead hunter Leila. I love them all, especially how they relate to D. The purple prose really works throughout the series to draw attention to D’s terrific power and ethereal beauty. The interactions and obsessions only highlight it further, and seeing the variety of personalities attracted to him definitely keeps me engaged in the new characters regardless of gender and whether or not they label their attraction love.

The ending to this one is brutal, gross, and eerily beautiful.

Review: THE BOOKS OF JACOB by Olga Tokarczuk (trans. Jennifer Croft, 2022)

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Year Release: 2022
Source: Libro.fm

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: antisemitism, child death, rape, pogroms, prejudice, discrimination, vomiting, death of a parent

Ambitious is not a big enough word to describe the majesty of this novel. At a whooping 955 pages, this book is not just about Jacob Frank. Tokarczuk paints a mosaic of eighteenth century Europe centering the rise and fall of a messianic cult leader Jacob Frank. Starting in a village in what is now Ukraine and stretching across Poland and Lithuania, this story isn’t just about Frank, but about the people around him as well, from priests to rabbis to princes to village folks and so much more.

Vast in scope, yet this work is simultaneously personal and deeply human, showcasing every possible perspective of class and religion in one narrow slice of Europe.

Continue reading

Review: DAY OF THE OPRICHNIK by Vladimir Sorokin (trans. Jamey Gambrell) (2012)

Genre: Adult Speculative Fiction (Translated)
Year Release: 2012
Source: Unabridged Bookstore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Trigger Warning: gang rape, violence, state-sanctioned terrorism, drug use, a fish swimming up one’s veins into their brain, literal book burning, state censorship, beheaded dogs

Andrei Komiaga, our protagonist, is the fourth-highest ranking member of the oprichnina in a future version of Russia that’s a blend of Ivan the Terrible’s reign with Vladimir Putin’s current policies. We follow a day in Komiaga’s life which involves terrorizing aristocrats, censoring literature, bribery, and not one but two rituals with his fellow officers.

Disturbing, intense, and brilliant, this is one of those books where if the Wikipedia summary is enough to make you not approach this one, I do not blame you.

Continue reading

Review: EARTHLINGS by Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (trans.) (2020)

Genre: Adult Horror
Year Release: 2020
Source: Audible

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings: child sexual assault (graphic), incest, murder, suicidal ideation, child abuse, child neglect, depression, murder, cannibalism, vomiting

Don’t let the adorable cover fool you, this book is an exploration of trauma and never feeling quite human. Natsuki is essentially a child neglected by her parents and her best friend is the plush toy on the cover, Piyyut. Summer proves a reprieve when she spends time with her best friend and cousin Yu, while her city home life is a nightmare of being preyed upon by a teacher and her parents ignoring her. What ensues is a deeply interior journey of understanding “the factory” that makes the adults around Natsuki the way they are and the stark ways she does not want to partake in that system, either implicitly or explicitly.

Brutal in its prose and harsh in its indictment of the ways parents and society fail children at every turn, absolutely heed the trigger warnings before giving this one a read.

Continue reading